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Three Actions the Biden Administration Can Take to Advance Racial Equity

Race continues to predict how well someone will do, and how much suffering they will endure.

Equity, as defined by the research and advocacy group PolicyLink, is “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” But recent events highlight just how elusive such inclusion is for too many people. We see the consequences play out in health and education disparities, poverty and incarceration rates, homelessness, addiction and countless other indicators of inequity. 

In America today, from infant mortality to life expectancy, race continues to predict how well someone will do and how much suffering they will endure. Self-policing our individual behavior is important, but to achieve equity, we must find systematic solutions. Those solutions will require interdisciplinary strategies focused on those most affected, and they must move beyond “services” to change policies, institutions and structures.

President Biden recently signed an executive order pledging to focus on advancing racial equity through systemic and policy change, noting it will take years. 

Achieving racial equity will require a broad effort. Collectively, diverse sectors possess a wealth of knowledge, data, and racial equity success stories that can help us accelerate progress. 

Through my work with the public sector at Clear Impact over the past 14 years, I would like to offer three proven actions we’ve found to help our clients measurably advance racial equity in their communities. While I don’t have all the answers, it helps to start with what works rather than starting from scratch.

1. Identify national population indicators as the focus. Just like PolicyLink has done with the national equity atlas and 300 geographies it covers, the Biden administration should identify a handful of national indicators, disaggregated by race, that can be used to measurably identify and reduce disparities. Not all federal programs will neatly align, but it will be a way to maintain focus and accountability. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate effect on communities of color, potential indicators might be: 

  • Unemployment rates 
  • Eviction rates 
  • Small business starts 
  • Homeownership rates 

Why it works: National indicators provide clarity around what success looks like and serve as a beacon for collective goals.

2. Mandate one outcome-focused racial equity performance measure for each federal program and contract. Each agency, program, and contract should be required to pick no more than one performance measure disaggregated by race. Each performance measure should be reported in a standard format and include a one-page performance improvement plan. These plans could be part of a larger federal performance plan or their own unique effort. The best performance measures answer the question, “Is anyone better off as a result of our efforts?” They also serve as proxies for other performance measures.

Why it works: The number of performance measures related to racial equity is virtually unlimited. Selecting only one will increase focus on the key factors of racial equity and prevent data-overload. It should complement other measures used for performance management or reporting.

3. Make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority for every agency. The federal government should establish a common set of metrics to inform policies to foster a federal workforce that represents the American population and promotes access to opportunity for all Americans. All of this data should be accessible through a common portal and made accessible to the public. Metrics could include: 

  • Percentage of senior staff that identify as people of color 
  • Percentage of all staff that identify as people of color 
  • Percentage of prime contractors that subcontract with small, disadvantaged businesses 

Why it works: Committing to publicly measuring internal racial equity provides transparency and accountability. 

To achieve equity, we must work to close the gap so that race does not predict one’s success. At the same time, we must improve outcomes for all. The Biden administration can use data to uncover and track disparities and advance racial equity in our country, states, and communities. 

While data alone won’t solve entrenched social issues, it will help ensure that we approach equity authentically and with respect. In other words, we must measure things, we must look at the full story, and we must elevate in the process those we are trying to help. 

Adam Luecking is CEO of Clear Impact, a public sector performance management technology company based in Rockville, MD. His email address is adam@clearimpact.com.

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